HUMAN RIGHTS by Joseph Lease


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This first collection by a Tufts University professor declares its demanding aesthetic right at the start: decrying “narrative” and “ambition,” the poet of “Michael Kohlhaas”—his reimagining of Kleist’s novella—favors “metaphor” and “visual arrangement,” and Lease adheres to this stringent, surreal notion in numerous poems that seem to be little more than collages of arresting images. Lease tries to redefine the relation between emotion, object, and word in love poems that sweat and climax but make no conventional sense, and in the cascading prose of “Words Like Rain,” language simply splashes over things, as elsewhere it records random colors or, worse, devolves into self-reflexive writing about the fear of writing (“The Room”). Lease hopes to create a myth and ritual of his wordplay, repeating phrases and sentences in different contexts, seeking liquid meanings. When he does break form and speak straight, the result is often lame—“Sometimes our egos are prize-winning hogs,” he laments at a party; or, in a modern shopping mall, he imagines that the ethnic world of his ancestors was somehow more “real” (“Slivovitz”). Lease excels when he’s “just trying to understand this instant”—a not altogether original poetic creed these days, but one nevertheless that disguises his bland insight.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-944072-85-2
Page count: 72pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998